Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2015 - Dean Treadway ""

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Film Discoveries of 2015 - Dean Treadway

Dean Treadway is a co-host and special events correspondent for the popular Movie Geeks United podcast. Dean has been involved in film criticism, film festival programming, and television performance and programming for more than 25 years. His blog, filmicability (at details his lifelong passion for the movies.
Payroll (aka I Promised to Pay) (Sidney Hayers, 61)
This British heist movie was my favorite film discovery of the year--it really thrilled me! A dummy gang of crooks (led by Michael Craig) plot to rob the safe of a local factory, but their scheme is wrecked when the factory hires an armored van outfit to carry the cash. The gang charges ahead with the robbery, but when the driver of the van is wiped out in the raid, his wife (a supremely powerful Billie Whitelaw, at her very best here) plans her revenge. Totally exciting in its 60s B&W glory, one never knows what to expect from this now-forgotten entry into this popular genre. Reg Owen's jazzy score is a major attribute!
Call Northside 777 (Henry Hathaway, 48)
The kind of movie I think I would've seen by now. Led by James Stewart as a Chicago crime reporter, it's as tightly wound and yet as economical as any noir I can think of (and I use noir loosely here, as there is not much night-time play here—this one's very business-like). Richard Conte plays a convicted cop killer who, after eleven years in the pen, is reconsidered as a possible innocent man by Stewart. Lee J. Cobb is, of course, Stewart's grouchy boss (who's more irascible than Cobb?). Written with care by Jerome Cady and Jay Dratler, its cast includes Helen Walker, John McIntire and, in quick glimpses, E.G. Marshall, Thelma Ritter and Lionel Stander. A real spellbinder, this, and proof that the stuff of Making a Murderer is not, by a long shot, a new thing.
Welfare (Frederick Wiseman, 75)
Very simply, Wiseman's 3-hour B&W documentary diligently hovers over desperate seekers of American welfare assistance, with a visibly overworked and under-appreciated team of bureaucrats trying their best to remain engaged in the face of unending need. Wiseman's camera never falters—as it rarely has throughout a 50-year career. One really gets the sense of standing in line, hungry for a meal, and awaiting the answer as to whether it really will arrive. Many of Wiseman's documentaries are difficult to catch, but this one was available to see through You Tube for a short time (it's now been deleted, though there is a short clip now available--and it kind of infuriates me how hard Wiseman's work is to see). When you watch it, imagine that this is the world that both its workers and applicants inhabit every single day. That'll really get your mind reeling.

Viewable on YouTube here:
What a Crazy World! (Michael Carreras, 63)
A nutty discovery. What first seems like a kitchen-sink drama from early-60s Britain turns into a wildly unpredictable musical, with Joe Brown as a wannabe rock n' roll star on the dole along with Harry H. Corbett (the son on UK TV series Steptoe and Son—the originator of US TV's Sanford and Son) playing his gruff father. Susan Maughan is Brown's irritated girlfriend, and Michael Goodman is his handsome blonde brother. I adored it for its just-before-the-Beatles peer into British working-class life, and for its inclusion of Freddie and the Dreamers as headliners at the local dance. If you're in love with this place and time, there's nothing out there like this film.
Playboy's Roller Disco and Pajama Party (Tom Trbovich, et al, 79)
It's not a movie, but it might as well be. After taking a look at Mark L. Lester's 1979 goofiness called Roller Boogie, I started looking into the whole roller disco craze. What I found, right there on You Tube, complete with original commercials (including original ABC programming spots with Paul Thomas Anderson's father Ernie as voice-over, a spot for Blake Edwards' 10, and a Minnesota newscast preview poking fun at this Hugh Hefner/ABC jigglefest), this is a remarkable time capsule of 1979 goodness. Here we see Richard Dawson, decked out in a ruffled tuxedo, acting as our host guiding us into Hef's bedazzled world of damsels and hangers-on. We see: James Caan soaking up his stardom; Bill Cosby strutting out on Hef's tennis court with I Spyco-star Robert Culp; Chuck Mangione playing his hit “Feels So Good” for the crowd; the Village People performing a couple of interminable numbers for a bonkers, coked-up dance floor; Wayland Flowers manipulating his chief puppet Madame (and another, lesser-known darker-skinned character) for some out-of-date laughs; and Hefner himself guiding us laconically through the debauchery. Also seen: Ruth Buzzi, Cheryl Tiegs, Jim Brown, Marjoe Gortner, and then-newcomer named Dorothy Stratten, who can be seen roller-skating in totally gorgeous glory, just like her character was seen in Bob Fosse's Star 80 (she's obviously a star here, and is saved until the special's very final moments). An exquisite time piece complete with expertly chosen music that totally floored me with its unrelenting 70s freedom. It must be seen by those who love this period. Again, it's on You Tube in two parts.

Countdown to Looking Glass (Fred Barzyk, 84)
Around the world in the 80s, the TV industry was actively trying to scare the crap out of the populace in regards to nuclear proliferation, what with The Day After, Threads, and Edward Zwick's Special Bulletin. The latter has most in common with Countdown to Looking Glass, as they're both recreations of news programs covering a nuclear crisis. Zwick's film—about a band of American terrorists threatening to detonate a homemade bomb off the South Carolina coastline, bravely unfolds in real time and is just a little phony around the edges. But Barzyk's film—made in Canada and first shown in America on HBO—feels imminently more authentic, though the fact that it takes place over ten days (and includes drab off-camera dramatic scenes with reporter Helen Shaver and writer Michael Murphy) undercuts the possibilities of this production sparking a War of the Worlds-type panic. This telling of a Middle East conflict mushrooming into World War III becomes particularly convincing with steely performances from Patrick Watson as CVN anchor Don Tobin and Scott Glenn as the network's Middle East correspondent. The direction is suitably taut and the writing superbly researched, to the point that one thinks, when it's all over “Yeah, that's probably how it's gonna go down.” Right now, it's available for viewing on You Tube.
Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 57)
This year, I inadvertently highlighted Barbara Stanwyk in my Film Discoveries efforts, also seeing her naughty pre-Code 1931 vehicle Night Nurse and the 1947 thriller Cry Wolf (both recommended). She's always been admired for a certain brawny toughness, but in Fuller's eccentric (what other kind of Fuller movie is there?) western, Stanwyck's no-nonsense cattle baron has a softer side, trapped between her loves for new marshal Barry Sullivan and shoot-'em-up brother John Ericson. Gene Barry and Robert Dix are Sullivan's dull siblings, while Dean Jagger and John Ford regular Hank Worden are quirky fellow lawmen. Weird scene stagings, sexually-suggestive dialogue, and often disorienting widescreen B&W from cinematographer Joseph Biroc help make up for the fact the movie needs a little more Stanwyck in the mix. Still, a superlative effort for Fuller at the apex of his career.
That Sinking Feeling (Bill Forsyth, 79)
Forsyth has been one of my favorite directors since the early 80s, but until this year, his debut feature was very tough to find (and I'm still searching for his sophomore effort Andrina). It was worth the wait, though I do wish the copy I saw had a subtitle function, as the Scottish brogues here are often unintelligible, and I know Forsyth's writing is always sharply hilarious. Chief premise here: a glum bunch of broke Glasgow teens crack a scheme to steal and later hawk a truckload of stainless-steel sinks. Totally nutty, with a distinctly hare-brained heist sequence that sucks all the danger out of the situation (and here, this is welcome—Forsyth's movies are nearly always charmingly harmless). Excellent rainy Glasgow locations, and it's also neat to see Gregory's Girl stars Robert Buchanan and John Gordon Sinclair in tow!
Love and Betrayal: The Mia Farrow Story(Karen Arthur, 95)
Another Canadian TV-movie, with Toronto standing in for New York City (a trope I always kind of perversely love). We all know the story, but Love and Betrayal feels totally fair in the way it juggles our sympathies over its three-hour running time. The film does cover Mia's rise to fame, and her nuptials to Frank Sinatra (a unconvincing Richard Muenz). But it's her marriage and subsequent battles with Woody Allen that take center stage here, of course. To that end, Patsy Kensit (as Farrow) and especially Dennis Boutsikaris as Allen do superb work in taking their performances right to the edge of imitation and then cleverly pulling back. The script, by Cynthia Cherbak, is even-handed and mostly intelligent all the way through, with much of the dialogue coming directly from court transcripts and real-life interviews with the two stars. Even if you're tired of the whole brouhaha, Love and Betrayal does impart some nuggets of insight. This one is currently available to see on You Tube.
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (aka Doppelganger) (Robert Parrish, 69)
I actually watched this Gerry and Sylvia Anderson production (their first sci-fi effort sans puppets) when I was a kid circa 1974, but all I could remember about it was its chilling final shot. So catching it again was a revelatory treat. A twin Earth is discovered and a coalition of British and American astronauts are sent to explore it. That's all I'm gonna say, as the movie totes a few surprises in its occasionally goofy script (the dialogue is often stiff, but then again, if you've watched an episode of Space: 1999--a show I love--you know what to expect). The special effects, by Thunderbirdsveteran Derek Meddings, are gloriously prescient, and I really adore the opulent if minimalist art direction, too! The earnest cast includes Herbert Lom, Roy Thinnes, Ian Hendry, Patrick Wymark and Ed Bishop.
Cry Terror (Andrew L. Stone, 58)
Ol' Rod Steiger can always be relied upon to dine on some scenery, and he doesn't disappoint in this as a nutjob bomber out to extort money from his bomb-making army buddy (James Mason) by holding his kids for ransom. Inger Stevens is excellent as the dour wife who's duped into participating in the set-up; it's maybe her best performance, as she committed suicide in 1970, (she almost died on set when she and Steiger were nearly choked to death by carbon monoxide fumes in a subway scene; Steiger took oxygen to recover, but Stevens refused the remedy until Steiger convinced her otherwise). Cry-baby Jack Klugman, maniac Neville Brand, and extra-hot Angie Dickinson are Steiger's cohorts. It occasionally clunks and sputters, but ultimately Cry Terror is an effective 50s thriller.
Not as a Stranger (Stanley Kramer, 55)
A little before Kramer starting using movies as springboards for social commentary, he still had time to do star-studded pot-boilers like this. Robert Mitchum is an overly-ambitious medical intern looking to be a big-time surgeon. He attends school with ring-a-ding Frank Sinatra (very good here) and hooks up with always sweetly understanding Olivia De Havilland, whom he uses to further his career. Once he scoots off to a small town to begin his independent practice, things start going sour, as snaky Gloria Grahame slinks in to steal him away from De Havilland. Mitchum might be a little sleepier than usual, but it's still a pretty captivating soaper to watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It's helped immensely by a great cast that includes Lee Marvin, Broderick Crowford, Whit Bissell, Lon Chaney Jr., Myron McCormick, Harry Morgan, Jesse White, Charles Bickford and Mae Clarke!
How To Beat the High Cost of Living (Robert Scheerer, 80)
The first hour of the film introduces us to its scrambling trio of penny-pinching women, played by Jessica Lange, Susan Saint James and a very fine Jane Curtin (who really should have had more of a movie career). These scenes dealing with the difficulties of paycheck-to-paycheck living still have abundant relevance today (though I really get annoyed at Richard Benjamin as Lange's a-hole husband—he's never been one of my favorites). The film gets silly with its third act mall heist of the cash in a giant plastic money ball (uh, a bank would be SO much easier), but it's always entertaining with its able leads, ultra-80s look and adept supporting cast (including Dabney Coleman, Fred Willard, Cathryn Damon, Eddie Albert, Ronnie Schell, Sybil Danning and Garrett Morris).
Riot (Buzz Kulik, 69)
TV-movie veteran Kulik took a stab at the big screen with this scuzzy tale of an inmate uprising filmed at the Yuma Correctional Prison in Arizona. Jim Brown is potent in the beefy lead, with Gene Hackman his match as his second-in-command, and the movie effectively ratchets up the suspense just like a good prison yarn should. Produced by William Castle, with one of the few scores delivered by short-lived Rosemary's Babycomposer Krzysztof Komeda. Currently available to see on Amazon Prime.
The Facts of Life (Melvin Frank, 60)
Being an Oscar nut, I always noticed this title floating around the 1960 nominations list. It got nods for its Norman Panama/Melvin frank screenplay, its B&W cinematography, art direction, and a sup-par title song from Johnny Mercer (played over a Saul Bass credits sequence), and won for its Edith Head/Edward Stevenson costume design. But I didn't realize it was a vehicle for the heavy comedic duo of Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, who reign in their overpowering personas to play long-time friends, each married, who consider having an affair with one another while vacationing in Acapulco. It wants to be Billy Wilder quite badly, and in quality of production, at least, it almost succeeds. I wish it were much sexier and funnier, but I guess the audience who loved these stars in 1960 wouldn't have stood for that. I did love seeing Lucy and Ol' Ski Nose dressed to the nines together, though, and there are some fun sequences, including one at a drive-in movie (always enjoy those).

MORE NOTABLE FILM DISCOVERIES THIS YEAR: Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, 2010), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion(Elio Petri, 71), The Hit (Stephen Frears, 84), The Iceman Cometh (John Frankenheimer, 73), Night Nurse (William A. Wellman, 31), No Place Like Home (Lee Grant, 89), Night Train to Munich (Carol Reed, 40), Words and Pictures (Fred Schepisi, 2013), The Devil and Miss Jones (Sam Wood, 41), Boomerang(Elia Kazan, 47), Canyon Passage (Jacques Tourneur, 46), Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin, 95), Bill (Anthony Page, 81), Thunderbirds Are GO! (David Lane, 66), My Old Lady (Israel Horovitz, 2014), Murder in Coweta County (Gary Nelson, 83), Odd Man Out (Carol Reed, 47), Cause for Alarm! (Tay Garnett, 51), Gideon's Army (Dawn Porter, 2013)

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